Allan MacEachen, left, with Pierre Trudeau

Courtesy CBC

The cabinet of then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau opposed compensation for interned Japanese-Canadians because they didn’t seem unhappy, say secret documents.

The declassified documents, obtained by Blacklock’s Reporter, said the cabinet was concerned about the precedent it would set to give cash to people whose property was seized.

“Any assistance should not be addressed only to the Japanese since other groups were treated badly on racial grounds,” cabinet agreed at a confidential April 18, 1984 meeting.

The National Association of Japanese Canadians had sought for years settlement of claims over the seizure and forced sale of property in 1942.

About 22,000 Japanese, including Canadian citizens, were removed from the BC coast after the Pearl Harbour attack and taken to the interior, Alberta, Manitoba and northern Ontario.

The wartime cabinet invoked the War Measures Act and seizing more than $152.4 million worth of fishing boats, real estate and automobiles owned by Japanese-Canadians.

Then-Multiculturalism Minister David Collenette in a censored 1984 report to cabinet proposed a settlement of claims.

“Many Japanese people who were relocated stayed in the new communities and were not unhappy,” said Cabinet Minutes.

“A nation cannot go back and wipe out the past, it should look forward. A more general approach should be taken, if anything is to be done.”

“All minorities will feel they should have a right to redress. Any resolution in the House of Commons should not be related to a single group.”

Trudeau Sr. cabinet opposed payments to interned Japanese-Canadians

Cabinet said instead of compensating Japanese-Canadians, “other ways should be looked at, for example endowing chairs at universities,” said Minutes.

“In concluding, Ministers expressed the wish that the Minister (of Multiculturalism) look at the issue again and have it discussed in the cabinet committee on social development.”

Trudeau, Sr. at the time also publicly opposed any apology or compensation for the wartime internment.

“I’m not inclined to envisage questions of compensation about acts which have maybe discoloured our history in the past,” Trudeau told the Commons.

“I’m not sure where we would stop in compensating.”

The Liberal cabinet lost re-election five months later without settling the issue.

When Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was elected, in 1he 988 formally apologized for the wartime internment and approved $21,000 in compensation to some 6,000 surviving internees.

“All Canadians know apologies are inadequate,” Mulroney said at the time.

Japanese were interned under a 1942 order that demanded “all property situated in any protected area of British Columbia belonging to any person of the Japanese race be delivered up” for sale by federal agents.

Japanese-Canadians did not regain the right to vote until 1949.

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard

News Editor & Calgary Bureau Chief

Dave Naylor is News Editor & Calgary Bureau Chief of the Western Standard based in the Calgary Headquarters. He served as City Editor of the Calgary Sun & covered Alberta news for nearly 40 years.

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